Known as one of the most prolific racers, not just in his time but to date, Niki Lauda’s determination earned him a spot among the greats. He lived for a dream that many would be too afraid to start driving towards. Read on to learn more about Niki Lauda, his legacy and why he is worthy of a spot amongst other racing giants.
#1 – He Was A Little Bit Of A Rebel
He was born on February 22, 1949, in Vienna, Austria to a family of successful industrialists that owned a chain of paper factories. He helped out by driving forklifts and delivery trucks, but when he was 17 he saw the 1966 German Grand Prix. This spurred on his search for a racecar of his own, despite his parents’ disapproval.
He even went so far as to falsify his school diploma so that his parents would buy him a car. He got his first “race-ready” car in 1968 from Fritz Baumgarten, a local hero. However, he told his parents he was just storing the car for a friend to explain the race decals. They didn’t find out about his hobby until they read that he won second place in the paper.
#2 – He Was Incredibly Determined
Lauda was not going to let something like finances, or a near-death experience get in the way of his passion.
In 1971 at the age of 22, he took out a loan against his life insurance policy for $41,000 so that he could buy into the March Formula Two and One teams. This wild maneuver kept him in the game long enough to catch the attention of Ferrari in 1973, catapulting his career in the next few years.
In the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda tried to get the other racers to boycott due to safety concerns over the track. However, he was outvoted. On only the second lap through the Eifel Mountains, he lost control of his car, crashing into an embankment. He suffered from first, second, and third-degree burns after the car erupted into flames. His injuries were so severe a priest performed last rites while he was in a coma. But Lauda was not down for long. He was racing once again at the Italian Grand Prix, bandaged and bloody, just six weeks later and placed fourth.
#3 – He Had Rivalry Worthy Of Hollywood
The rivalry Lauda had with James Hunt pushed him to work harder and drive faster. Their neck and neck competition fine-tuned and molded each other’s careers into the almost untouchable territory. This rivalry was so notable it inspired the 2013 movie Rush, Starring Daniel Brühl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt. Lauda gave Ron Howard, the director, the approval to make this film when he had turned down many other directors.
#4 – He Had An Insanely Impressive Career
Lauda’s hard work and determination allowed him to boast 3 championship titles, 25 wins, and 54 podiums. He accomplished this in 14 years, with two of his championship titles earned after his nearly fatal crash.
#5 – He Was An Aviator And Businessman
He had two retirement periods, a brief one from 1979 to 1982, and a permanent one beginning in 1985. He enjoyed aviation so much that he got a pilot’s license and then in 1979 he started an airline company called Lauda Air. After he officially retired for good, he founded another low-cost-focused airline called NIKI. He eventually sold his airlines, but it was a hobby and business he enjoyed for quite some time.
Learn More At The International Motorsports Hall of Fame
Niki Lauda was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993. His legacy has continued to inspire people, becoming a hero to those who would follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, in 2019 he succumbed to complications from his 1976 injuries. He passed away peacefully in his hometown. If you would like to learn more about Niki Lauda and his impressive career, come visit the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama. We are open every day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm for self-guided tours. You can plan your visit online or call us at 256-362-5002.